FIFA held its usual mid-tournament press conference a the 2019 Women’s World Cup to address the current state of refereeing at the event, and was on the defensive for much of the time due to recent criticism of decisions, laws, and technology.
Chairman of FIFA’s Refereeing Committee Pierluigi Collina was the main speaker, coming out with multiple defenses for incidents that have occurred in the tournament so far. The biggest topics of discussion were VAR use, goalkeeper actions on penalties, and new laws of the game. Instead of highlighting any mistakes that may have been made, Collina spent much of the time – complete with prepared visuals – defending decisions made that have drawn heavy fire.
First, Collina spent time saying how pleased he has been with the implementation of new laws that went into effect at the start of June. He said that in preparation for the changes in the laws of the game, teams were notified as early as December of last year about potential upcoming changes, and were given the ability to play with the new laws in friendlies starting in March to prepare for official changes starting in June. He then told reporters that FIFA sent officials to each team’s delegation upon arrival in France to get feedback and work through any questions the federations may have about new laws, which were apparently well received.
“I have to say that on none of these occasions we received any complaints, any questions…these changes were very well accepted as well as very well accepted in the competitions,” Collina said.
He then addressed the concerns of many, starting with goalkeeper encroachment on penalties, which has been a huge talking point in the Women’s World Cup. Collina’s general point was that the law has actually been relaxed, but technology allows referees to enforce the rule to a far greater extent than in the past, which makes for some jarring moments at first.
“The only issue has concerned penalty kicks, and honestly we have been a bit surprised,” Collina admitted of the criticism.
Collina then went on to verbalize about how fans must get used to the black and white nature of VAR which will give referees the ability to enforce rules such as offside or encroachment to a T, much like goal line technology helps decide whether a goal is in or not.
“If we have a tool that can show clearly without any doubt that there is an offside position and a goal is scored by the player who was in an offside position, it doesn’t matter if it was two centimeters or 20 meters. There is not a small or a big offside, there is an offside. We have a technology which was well received by the entire world which is goal line technology which allows us to see if the ball crossed the line by 0.5 centimeters, so if the ball is over the line by 0.5 centimeters, it is a goal. There is not a big goal or a small goal, it is a goal, it is a fact. If a foul is committed five centimeters outside the penalty area, it is a free kick. If it is five centimeters inside the penalty area, it is a penalty kick, there is no room for any discussion, we have to enforce what is written in the laws of the game. If a goalkeeper moves both feet off the goal line before the penalty kick is taken, we have no choice but to order the penalty kick to be retaken. I repeat, it is not a matter of a small encroachment or big encroachment, it is a matter of encroachment, and this is what we can do by using technology.”
He also then explained that while VAR can be used to enforce goalkeeper encroachment, the only time players will be called for encroachment into the penalty area on the opposite end is when an encroaching player is directly involved in a subsequent play should the goalkeeper keep the ball out. Otherwise, they are at the referee’s discretion and replay review does not come into play.
Finally, Collina made sure to explain that the Women’s World Cup was not considered an “experiment” for new laws, although he did not address the concept that the tournament has been made out to be an experiment for VAR.
“We didn’t consider the Women’s World Cup – which is our flagship tournament in 2019 as a World Cup – we cannot consider this competition as an experiment. I want only to remind you that the new version of the laws of the game have been implemented in Poland U-20 World Cup for the men, has been implemented in the Copa America, has been implemented in AFCON, and also here. So simply, they are implemented in all the competitions.”
Probably the most awkward moment of the press conference was as Collina gave statistics on the tournament so far, a graphic showed how the current tournament has produced 23 penalties to this point in the competition, already one more than the entire 2015 tournament. Collina seemed surprised to see this statistic and offered no explanation for the drastic increase, instead moving on quickly to his next slide.
Still, it must be noted that in a broad sense, Collina is right in his idea that at the end of the day, officials must enforce rules as black & white and, unless exceptions are officially logged in the future, hold players to the rules that are written. Referees are only able to enforce what is written, and for the most part the problems in the World Cup have not been with the use of technology, but rather the rules they enforce that need editing to accommodate the new availability of replay review.